First Draft Blues

First Draft Blues

I don’t know why my younger self thought first drafts were the fun bit and decided editing was like falling into hell itself. She couldn’t have been more wrong. Editing is definitely the fun part.

Like, you get a first draft, and you spend half your time not knowing where your plot is going and the other half not caring because the whole thing is going to be a massive pile of fail anyway, isn’t it, and you should just quit now because you’re never going to make it and why did you agree to do this and all your beta readers will laugh at you. (Maybe it’s just me, because I failed to plan this novel. Maybe I would only hate it half the time if I knew where the plot was going.)

Whereas a second draft — now, a second draft is great. Because you know where it’s going, and all you have to do this time is stitch bits into the right order, and sew up the holes you left last time, and re-order a bunch of scenes, and make the characters more consistent … and okay, it’s at least as much work, but you have basically a really detailed outline right there in front of you and the consolation that whatever you write is probably going to be better than the first attempt.

There are no consolations in a first draft except reaching the end.

Okay, maybe they have redeeming features, like those moments when something clicks and you get loads done, or you write a single sentence that’s awesome, but mostly, they suck. This doesn’t mean I’m not getting Butterfly Of Night done — I’m on about 23k, which isn’t bad for eight days’ work — but it means I’m not enjoying it nearly as much as writing the third draft of The Quiet Ones or the second draft of Death and Fairies book 1 earlier this year.

(I probably am. I’ve got a tendency to romanticise the writing process as soon as a novel is finished, but honestly, I wrote in my journal that TQO was draining all my energy and I just wanted to get it finished so, hey, maybe it wasn’t so great after all.)

I think it’s because I don’t have enough word fodder in my brain at the moment. I haven’t finished a book in … quite a long time. I keep starting them. I’ve got three library books on the go at the moment, and I’m nowhere near finishing any of them. I acquired two books yesterday, but it’ll be weeks before I can justify reading them. I need to finish and return these library books instead.

I’m keeping my book blog ticking over by uploading old reviews, or writing reviews of books I read a while ago, and since I always planned to build up the archives like that, I don’t feel overly guilty about it. But. But I promised myself I was going to read loads this summer. I’ve got multiple non-fiction books demanding my attention, and plenty of fiction going unread, and all the while there are no words in my head, so writing is hard.

I don’t understand writers who say they don’t read because they’re too busy writing: how can you write when you’re not reading? I mean, yeah, I get it: we’ve all been there, where we’re so caught up in a novel it takes all our free time, especially if we’re balancing other commitments, but reading is what gives writing life, and as soon as I stop reading, my writing productivity sinks, or at least the level of inspiration does.

I’ve still been absorbing stories. I watched both seasons of Orphan Black and I’m five episodes into Buffy (which is good novel fodder for this book, since my character has some things in common with Buffy herself). TV is just as good a way to absorb stories, if not a better one, and to understand characters and structure and plot. But not words. For words, I need books.

It’s probably just as well that I don’t believe in the Muse, and my general method is to sit down and write whether I feel inspired or not, or I wouldn’t have written anything. Interestingly, that’s not the case for poetry. Poems come into my head and I’ll let them bubble up in there for a while until I’ve got a stanza or two, until they’re all but fully-formed, and then I write them down. If I’m not inspired, I don’t write them.

And any writer will tell you that you don’t make money from waiting for inspiration, but I’ll tell you a secret: you don’t make money from poetry anyway. Or not much. Trust me, I’m a professional.

I haven’t written many poems recently. I go through phases where I’ll write about five in two days, usually because there’s something on my mind and I don’t know how else to deal with it, but then I won’t write any for a month. Yesterday, I sat down to figure out how many I’ve actually got for my third collection, and how long it might take to finish it. It turns out I’ve got 20, so I’m nearly there: the last two collections had fewer than 25, but the final poem was long, particularly in the case of Urban Angels. That single poem is 2.5k long, the longest I’ve ever written.

So, unless I write a long poem, it’ll be a while before I’ve gathered enough short ones to make up for it, but that third collection might exist … eventually. The optimistic Miriam who wanted to publish a collection every three months points out that it should really be practically done by now, and I should be designing a cover. The realistic Miriam says there’s no point rushing it, since it’s not like I’ve got readers clamouring for more collections.

The realistic Miriam wins, but only because uninspired Miriam takes her side.

So maybe I’ll take today off from writing. Or this evening, after my ballet rehearsal, I won’t come home and turn on the computer. Maybe I’ll carve out a couple of hours today and read a book. I probably won’t finish any of my library books in that time, even though I’ve been reading them for weeks, but maybe I’ll make progress. And eventually, I’ll be able to review something new.

Maybe if I read, I’ll actually be inspired to write. Who knows?

5 thoughts on “First Draft Blues

  1. I can’t understand aspiring writers who don’t ever read. Especially when they don’t read in the genre they’re writing. I mean YEAH you might subconsciously copy…but isn’t it worse not knowing and then copying anyway? You have to know what’s out there, what the competition is. Okay! Okay! hehe. Watching Supernatural has inspired me for 52 billion story ideas, but I need to read. Ohhh, do I need to read to learn.

    I think 2nd drafting is definitely easier, too.

    1. The idea that people don’t want to be influenced by things baffles me. You’re you, not whoever wrote your favourite book. Your writing is always going to be coloured by your own writing so it’ll always end up different. When I started writing my work was easily influenced but the more you write, the stronger your own voice becomes and the less likely that is to happen…

    2. That is true. Before I learnt of the fact that writers need to read, I was someone who stayed away from books, especially sci-fi ones. Which was weird, since my sci-fi inspiration must’ve been coming from somewhere. TV is guess. *cough*Doctor Who *cough* Sure, a plot device of my novel kind of sounds like a plot device in Back to the Future (which I only watched yesterday, like almost five years after drafting the device into my story), but we can get around that, yes? Yes? *pleading face*

      1. I’ve done that kind of thing. Like my character resembling Buffy even though I created this character in 2011 and started watching Buffy, like… last week. :/

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